The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 29, 2013

News and notes: Highlights for 2013-14 performance seasons

By Tanner Kent
tkent@mankatofreepress.com

---- — In September, the arts and entertainment schedule in southern Minnesota gets a lot more cramped.

With schools back in session and performance groups ready to start their fall seasons, now is the time to put a few notes on the calendar. Here are some upcoming highlights:

Mankato Symphony Orchestra: Though conductor Ken Freed now resides in Seattle, he is returning to conduct the upcoming season, titled "These Are Our Songs." Though the symphonic season doesn't kick off until the Oct. 6 concert featuring the music of Sibelius and Brahms, MSO will host the first of its family concert series on Sept. 21 (this year's theme: "Viva Vivaldi") and a "Music and Brews" event on Sept. 27.

Some season highlights include: The world premier of "Songs About Rainbows," a piece featuring the music of Jim Henson and "The Muppets, on Feb. 9; and the appearance of Harvard-trained practicing psychiatrist and world-renowned concert pianist Richard Kogan for the "Deconstructing Rachmaninoff" concert on March 2 that will be preceded by a lecture on how mental illness affects creative output.

For more info: www.mankatosymphony.com

MSU Theatre: To keep pace with what is annually one of the most ambitious and demanding collegiate performance schedules in the country, the Minnesota State University Department of Theatre and Dance cannot afford to waste time. Auditions begin the first day of fall classes and the department's first production typically opens less than a month afterward.

This year, "Sky Girls" — a historical drama about female World War II fliers — kicks off the Studio season Sept. 18-21. The department follows with its first-ever presentation of "Les Miserables" to open its Mainstage season on Oct. 3.

Season highlights include: "Crumbs from the Table of Joy," to be directed by MSU graduate and founder of the nationally recognized Penumbra Theatre Lou Bellamy, beginning on Nov. 7; MSU's debut production of the wry and delightful show-within-a-show "The Drowsy Chaperone" beginning April 10; and, a showcase of original short plays by MSU students beginning April 23.

For more info: www.msutheatre.com.

Good Thunder: As always, the Good Thunder Reading Series speaks — or rather, reads — for itself. The venerable institution of MSU's English department continues to provide southern Minnesota with some of the country's most skilled and original literary voices.

The season begins with Pulitzer winner and creative non-fiction writer Tracy Kidder. The Harvard-educated writer's "Strength in What Remains" is MSU's choice for its common read program and will be the subject of Kidder's Sept. 12 visit.

In addition to a host of nationally recognized writers (including one of my personal favorites, the often acerbic and always socially observant Nikky Finney on April 10), the series includes Madison Lake's Rachael Hanel (whose 2012 memoir was well-received) and Matt Rasmussen, a Gustavus Adolphus College graduate whose "Black Aperture" won the Walt Whitman Award.

For more info: http://english.mnsu.edu/gt/.

Gustavus: The Gustavus Adolphus College theater schedule includes some interesting selections.

In addition to a pair of dance showcases, faculty have chosen "Trojan Barbie" — an imaginative war drama that begins Oct. 31 — and the iconic anti-war musical "Hair" in February and March to anchor its lineup.

For more info: https://gustavus.edu/theatre-dance/season.php.

Bethany: The Bethany Lutheran College Fine Arts department will begin its first season under the direction of Susan Harstad, who replaces the retired Lois Jaeger. Before debuting its fall play in November, the college will kick off its season in typical fashion — by unveiling the next iteration of its annual "Theatre Physics" performance on Sept. 20.

For more info: www.blc.edu/theater.

Merely Players: Two tantalizing productions bookend the Merely Players Community Theatre's 2013-14 season:

"Little Shop of Horrors" debuts Oct. 25 while "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" kicks off April 4. Auditions for the former begin Sept. 8.

For more info: www.merelyplayers.com.

NUACT: The New Ulm Actors Community Theatre has announced a 2013-14 schedule comprising 20 events and activities, including four mainstage productions.

In addition to the season opener "Inherit the Wind" on Oct. 4-6, NUACT will also be staging a holiday radio drama, a spring comedy and "Fiddler on the Roof" as its summer musical.

For more info: www.newulmact.com.